The 2016 South Central Jurisdictional Conference, comprised of delegates from Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, involved days full of voting for new bishops, presentations on the well-being of churches and affiliated organizations and plenty of fellowship. Topics discussed ranged from finances and church details to elections to young adults.
As an emerging young leader, I found it interesting to see how the church works and what it takes to accomplish different things that affect the future of the church and the United Methodist community.
I served as a page. That means I was part of the group of 12 young adults dispersed around the ballroom or scattered around the outside hallway collecting nametags and directing delegates and guests toward the ice cream social. My job as a page was to deliver messages or motions to the secretary, to pass notes from one delegate to another if needed and to help pass out crucial papers containing information that was covered in presentations. As a page, I worked with high school and college students from the Great Plains Conference who are passionate about growing in the United Methodist Church and Great Plains interns from the Pastoral Leadership and Church Planting programs. We got to serve in what I think was the easiest job at the conference, but I also think we had the most interesting job.
Some of the people I worked with will be the newest pastors and clergy members when the next jurisdictional conferences roll around. A few of the pages this year could be running for bishop at the 2048 South Central Jurisdictional Conference, if we can dream that far ahead. As the next generation of the church, it was interesting to see how everything works inside of the church and to see how the United Methodist vision is upheld even in difficult times.
Each night during the conference, the pages would gather and answer the question “What surprised you or intrigued you about the conference or about each day?” A majority of the answers mentioned the amount of policy and, in some ways, debating that occurred at the conference. Other answers covered the length of time it took to elect a single bishop or how certain people dealt with certain topics.
In addition to electing bishops and making motions, various United Methodist agencies gave presentations on finances and the treasurer’s report, Hispanic and Korean ministries, the 30-year anniversary of the Disciple Bible Study, and several other related topics. One of the conference presentations was led by youth and young adults working to have their voices heard within the United Methodist Church. There were countless ideas and proposals for what we can do to better include the youth and young adults, but it was also noted that the church is a long way away from that goal.
“We need young people who are not afraid to get involved and who are ready to show everyone that they are capable and equipped to be the church and lead the church,” said Hannah Sipes, Pastoral Leadership intern at Manhattan First UMC. “Likewise, we need the older generations to be willing to accept us into those roles! Except, to accept young adults and youth into these leadership roles, there are going to have to be people who have served many years volunteer to step down so that we, young adults and youth, may step up. I think there are many adults who are ready for youth and young adults to step up, but maybe they are not quite ready to give up that spot of leadership. I would challenge everyone to look at every person, regardless of age, as someone who is ready, equipped, and willing to serve the church that they love.”
Each night and during daily conversations, the pages also touched on the fact that they were able to meet people outside of their conference and outside of their age group.
“What was emphasized to me (at the conference) was the importance of networking within the church,” said Jesse Gichuru, Pastoral Leadership intern at El Dorado First UMC. “I saw people not only across each conference but across the jurisdiction as a whole that were working together to present policies and get people elected. It highlighted, at least for me, the importance of reaching out beyond your church or conference to be more unified as a church.”
One thing in particular that intrigued me about the conference was the high amount of prayer. In the midst of church politics, disagreements, elections and reports, the delegates and bishops would pray before each item on the agenda. They would pray before each ballot and before each presentation or whenever someone wanted to pray. Delegates would step up to the microphones and request a prayer. Even the youth observers organized their own prayer circle during each vote. It was refreshing to me, in a world of hurt and brokenness, to see that as the church we were able to put everything aside and take a minute to pray together and ask for God’s guidance in each and every thing that took place at the conference. It was a welcome sight that is often something we may take for granted.
I grew up in the United Methodist church, but I am fairly new to the inner workings of the church and seeing how everything gets done. The Jurisdictional Conference was almost like an immersion experience for getting to see how the church works, and it was very interesting to see how the different delegates would interact with each other, how conflicts were handled, to see the power of prayer in tense times and to have the opportunity to observe and learn in the conference environment.
Sipes has attended annual conference sessions in the past and has been around this type of gathering before, but she had not been to a Jurisdictional Conference before this year’s gathering.
“One thing that I learned from this experience that I will take into my future ministry is the idea of servant leadership,” she said. “There were points during the voting where a candidate would stand up and make a formal announcement that this is not really where God was calling them to be. It was such a beautiful thing to see candidates who are very capable of being a bishop resign from the race because they felt that God had something else in mind for them and not only that, but if they step down it would only help the church and the jurisdiction. That is beautiful servant leadership.”
The 2016 South Central Jurisdictional Conference was an eye-opening experience, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to see everything happen in person. My hope is that the knowledge and experience I took out of the conference will be something I can use in my future career, whether that’s in ministry, for a company or wherever else I am led in the next few years. It taught me, as the conference’s slogan suggested, to “Rejoice in the Harvest.”
Kylie Stamper served as a communications intern this summer in the Great Plains Conference. She is a student at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas.